One player who generated some buzz in the OTAs is OLB Travis Long. I’ll go ahead and make the obligatory “it’s not real football” disclaimer just so we can get that out of the way. No one is trying to put Long in the Hall of Fame. He’s just a young player that looked better this spring than he did last summer.
Let’s get some background on Long first. He was a DE at Washington State for 3 years. The Cougars shifted to the 3-4 in his Senior season so he got to play some OLB and some DE. While not a dynamic pass rusher, Long had 20.5 career sacks. He tore his ACL in November of 2012 and that kept him from getting drafted.
The Eagles signed him in the summer of 2013. He didn’t have a chance to work in the OTAs or minimcamp. Long was thrown straight into action in Training Camp. He wasn’t all the way back from his knee injury and he was learning the defense on the fly. Long didn’t make a serious push for a roster spot, but showed enough that the Eagles did put him on the practice squad.
I went back and check my notes from the preseason games. Long played the run well. He was physical at the point of attack. He had a couple of sacks, but they came more from effort than any special burst. This summer Long is back at 100 percent. The question is whether he has enough speed to be an effective pass rusher in the NFL.
“He’s really improved,” coach Chip Kelly said. “He has really made some great strides and is a guy that’s really pushing hard to make this football team. I think he’ll be able to contribute from a special-teams standpoint, obviously adding some depth at the outside linebacker spot. So he’s definitely a guy you have to keep an eye on right now.”
Long’s body lives up to his surname, and he has filled his 6-foot-4 frame with 255 pounds – 15 more than last July, when the Eagles signed him as an undrafted rookie during training camp. Long was still recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He was hurt in November 2012, keeping him out of the predraft process.
Kelly mentioned Long as a player he was eager to see before the team reported in April. When general manager Howie Roseman spoke before the draft about the team’s search for edge rushers, he singled out Long as someone “in the building who can do the job.”
Long, who played in a 3-4 defense during his senior year in college, worked on his pass drops with outside linebackers coach Bill McGovern before each game last season. He had 91/2 sacks as a senior at Washington State, but Long pointed to his 42 tackles for losses in his college career as evidence of his all-around game. He said he pursues the ball, not just the quarterback.
Long has worked behind Connor Barwin and Trent Cole, and is able to play both outside linebacker spots. During Tuesday’s practice, he was seen rushing with his hand in the ground, dropping into coverage, and setting the edge.
“I don’t think I’m making too many mistakes,” Long said. “I’m being where I’m supposed to be. That’s kind of one of the main things that they’re pleased with.”
The Eagles had just 37 sacks last season. They finished 31st in sacks per pass play. They need players who can get pressure on the quarterback if they’re going to make a serious Super Bowl run. It doesn’t matter whether that pressure comes from a first-round blue blood or an undrafted mutt with an ACL history.
“You’re always looking to add pass rushers,” general manager Howie Roseman said last month. “We’re always going to be looking for those guys.
“We have some young guys that we’re excited to see [develop]. Guys like Travis. He got kind of overlooked because of his knee injury. But we had a chance to watch him [practice] every week last year and get better in his drops. He’s shown the ability to rush the passer in the Pac-12.”
Long was a 4-3 defensive end his first 3 years at Washington State. But the Cougars switched to a 3-4 his last year there and he responded with the best season of his career. Had 13 tackles for losses and four batted passes in addition to those 9 1/2 sacks.
But then he hurt the knee.Long said it took until last November before his injured knee finally felt whole again.
“About the middle of the season last year,” he said. “I was able to do everything prior to that. But I was finally not thinking about my knee a year after [the injury].”
Long benefited from the year on the practice squad. It gave him the opportunity to completely recover from the injury and learn Bill Davis’ defense.
“I got to get a year in the defense and come back this year and know what I was doing,” he said. “It was good.”
From that standpoint, Long has a leg up on first-rounder Smith, who still is trying to get his arms around Davis’ defense.
Long has been working at both the left and right outside linebacker spots in the spring OTAs and this week’s mandatory minicamp.
“They just want to make sure I can play multiple positions,” he said. “That’s good for me. I want to show them I can do that. It gives me more value than some of these other guys.”
We’ll see what happens when the pads go on. Long could prove to be a try-hard guy that lacks the burst to make it in the NFL. Or he could turn out to be a UDFA steal. Other teams passed on him due to concerns over the knee. The Eagles patience could end up paying off nicely if Long can prove to be a good backup OLB and STs player.
Here is one of Long’s strip sacks from the JAX preseason game last summer.